Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Red Lady Salvation Ball: keeping a wild focus

The High Country Citizen’s Alliance (HCCA) Red Lady Salvation Ball is stronger and better than ever, albeit a far different bash from when it began 37 years ago. The evolution, however, is in sync with the new generation of gentle warriors who have to deal with a different set of laws in a far more frenetic world.
This Saturday, March 15, starting with a 7 p.m. cocktail hour and complimentary appetizers from Mountain Oven, the tradition continues. The event is again at the Powerhouse but since the rum stills are no longer taking up space, there won’t be the capacity issues that there were last year when some revelers had to be turned away.
So you have no excuse not to be there, especially since Crested Butte’s own Montanya’s Distillery and Elevation Beer Company of Poncha Springs are sponsors of the event this year, so the libations will be delicious.
The theme for the 2014 Red Lady Salvation Ball is “Wild West.” There’ll be a free old-time portrait booth for all the Wild Bills and Annie Oakleys, so costume up in your funkiest Old West sparkle.
The raffle has been streamlined with 10 top-notch prizes such as two seats for cat skiing at Irwin ($1,100 value), jackets from Patagonia, a one-night stay at the Fresh and Wyld Farmhouse B&B in Paonia, a 2014/15 Crested Butte Nordic Center ski pass, two nights at the Friends Hut for up to eight people, two tickets to Bluegrass in Paradise (which is July 4th weekend this year)—and that’s just some of the booty.
New to the event this year is a silent auction from 7 to 9:30 p.m. with items including massages, acupuncture, chiropractic sessions, a stay at Box Canyon Hot Springs in Ouray, another at Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs in Redstone, art and jewelry from local artists, restaurant certificates from faves like Teocalli Tamale and dinner at the Sunflower, and more.
Cranking up the evening’s ambiance are dancers from the Crested Butte Dance Collective performing aerials, trapeze, hoops and silks. The local musicians, about 15 in all, have clanned together to donate their time and talent under the lead of 2013 Red Lady Lizzy Plotkin and Tyler Lucas, appearing as the Red Lady Ramblers.
Spreading out the tunes in three sets, there’ll be a mix of bluegrass, Americana, honky tonk country and a little Dead thrown in. Lizzy, Jenny Hill, and Katherine Taylor kick off the dancing with some sweet Honeygrass, which is their band, Free the Honey, augmented with friends sitting in.
At 8:30 p.m. Simpler Times Bluegrass, with Sam Pankratz on guitar and Pierce Gresham on fiddle, lead some contra dancing with two professional callers coming in from Buena Vista.
As the night ramps up, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., the Red Lady Ramblers take the stage for a dance extravaganza of funky jammin’ music.
Of course, the night is capped by the crowning of the 2014 Red Lady.
This is a party with a purpose. The fight to save Mt. Emmons, aka The Red Lady, from the devastation of molybdenum extraction is one of the longest running mining battles in history, begun in the late 1970s by locals.
The first Salvation Ball fundraiser was in 1978 when the gala’s windfall fueled the legal coffers of the High Country Citizens Alliance and the first Red Lady title was given to a popular local woman to represent the wildness of the mountain. Back in those untamed days, the title and crown were won not so much by community environmental involvement but by dirty dancin’ deeds. Whomever danced the most feral shakey-shakey usually won and there was plenty of competition in town during that era. Everyone was in the ring for the fight against Amax, the Evil Empire of Mining for that decade.
Since then there have been several corporations that want to try their tactics and take on the Buttians for the sacred mountain’s treasure—each one has been turned back, so far. They misjudged the tenacious fabric of community, its lifestyle and priorities, all of which mean more than hollow promises of jobs and token incentives to buy out the culture, destroy our precious water and pristine environment.
Last week HCCA Executive Director Greg Dyson drove to a meeting at the U.S. Energy headquarters in Wyoming to reopen talks, accompanied by representatives from the town of Crested Butte and the Red Lady Coalition.
U.S. Energy currently owns the mining rights and the responsibility of maintaining the water treatment plant that cleans the contaminated water coming from the old Keystone mine, which empties into Coal Creek.
This initial meeting composed the first steps in negotiation, and served to get a direct conversation going about the voluntary clean-up plan (or VCUP) and how to proceed.
Dyson said that although it’s all very complicated and interrelated, he came away from the meeting with hope for all the long-term issues on Mt. Emmons. He also pointed out that just last week, Thompson Creek Mining Company, which was at one time involved with Mt. Emmons, closed one of their moly mines—a very good sign.
Jennifer Bock, HCCA’s water director, takes the lead in working with the state to make sure the clean water act is enforced and that it all complies with the standards for the amount of metals we can have in our water.
For example, in Silverton, a mining company tried to plug up an old American Tunnel mine, which caused the contaminated water to exit elsewhere on the mountain and it now pollutes the Animas River all the way down to Durango.
Bock says although there’s nothing wrong with cleaning up an old mine, it has to be done right and it can take a long time to recognize whether or not the site been properly cleaned up.
HCCA is now working with both U.S. Energy and the state to ensure that if a VCUP does go forward it will be done right. Both Bock and Dyson feel HCCA has two goals: cleaning up the Keystone mine and making sure that Red Lady never gets mined.
Bock notes the obvious importance of clean water isn’t just limited to Coal Creek—our fields are irrigated with it, our local gardens are all watered from it, and if cows absorb too much molybdenum they actually turn white.
Coal Creek sheds into the Slate River, which meets the East River and then the Taylor River to create the Gunnison River so, Bock explains, Coal Creek affects the whole valley and its purity is not just a Crested Butte issue.
She’s also hopes that maybe Crested Butte’s solution, once concluded, can be a model for what can happen in other areas, that a new way can be found to fix the problem. Bock says, although the Red Lady Ball raises money, the event is more about raising awareness. The environmental movement is evolving from what it was in the 70s. It needed to—this is a new generation.

Tickets for the 37th Red Lady Salvation Ball are on sale at Townie Books and also Friday and Saturday at the post office. $15 gets you in the door, or $30 gets you a very cool stainless steel pint cup and lid made by Clean Cantine with art of the Red Lady Mountain by Garret Bock (reuse the cup for Vinotok!), a complimentary drink and a one-year HCCA membership. For more information contact the High Country Citizens Alliance (970) 349-7104 or online at and on Facebook

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